Two New York City men have been arrested and charged with felonies for interfering with the actions of NYPD helicopters conducting critical searches in separate incidents recently.
The episodes, one week apart, include a Brooklyn man flying an unmanned aerial vehicle – commonly known as a drone – to within 50 feet of a police helicopter operating at an altitude of about 800 feet, and a Queens man who deliberately shone a high-powered laser beam into the eyes of an NYPD pilot maneuvering about 750 feet in the air.
“I put the helicopter in hover and all of a sudden I see, out of the corner of my eye, a bright green light that illuminated the cockpit,” Police Officer Tarek Otero, the pilot in command, said Tuesday.
At the time of the incident, on September 24 at about 9:30 p.m., Otero and his co-pilot, Police Officer Michael Porcheddu, were methodically combing the 107th Precinct for an assault suspect.
As Otero instinctively turned his head to the right to investigate the green light, the beam’s painful flash caused him to pull off his night-vision goggles and ask Porcheddu to radio patrol units on the ground.
“I told my partner: ‘We’ve just been lasered. I’ve got sight of him and we’re going to go after him’,” Otero said.
In the rear yard of a school located at 162nd Street and 86th Avenue in Queens, the pilots pinpointed a woman, a small child with a white dog, and a “very large” man.
Otero, who has 22 years with the NYPD – eight years with the Aviation Unit – broadcast descriptions over the police radio and directed responding cops from the 107th Precinct Anti-Crime Unit to the exact location.
“I said: ‘I have a visual on a possible perp that just lasered us,’” Otero said. “‘They are directly under us in the street. Stop that big guy right there.’”
Arrested in the street was 26-year-old Daniel Parris, who lives one block from the school. A six-inch-long laser device was recovered from his pocket.
Parris was charged with Reckless Endangerment, Menacing, and Obstructing Governmental Administration. He was released on bail and is next due in court on October 8. He has one prior arrest, for a 2007 robbery in Queens.
While the NYPD pilots escaped serious injury from the ultra-bright beam that remained trained on them even as they moved closer to the source, other aviators across the country have reported temporary, and even permanent, blindness – causing danger to the crew and to people and property on the ground.
The Federal Aviation Administration has been keeping track of laser incidents since 2005; in 2010, alone, nearly 3,000 such incidents were reported nationwide. Offenders can be charged with a federal crime and face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The FAA can also impose a civil penalty of up to $11,000 for each violation.
As for small drone use, the FAA has not yet announced proposed rules, but has said it plans to do so by the end of this year.
Just after midnight on September 17, NYPD pilots above Greene Avenue in Brooklyn were searching nearby rooftops and courtyards for a reported missing person when they came across a small white drone hovering nearby.
Using night vision goggles, the officers watched as it climbed and moved closer to their helicopter. Police were forced to call off their search in order to avoid a collision, but tracked the device until it landed behind 290 Central Avenue, its operator’s home.
As the pilots illuminated the area with the aircraft’s Nitesun searchlight, they radioed for 83rd Precinct cops to respond. Police recovered a DJI Phantom II remote-controlled drone equipped with a GoPro Hero camera.
Isaac Rosa, 34, was charged with Reckless Endangerment, Obstructing Governmental Administration, and several additional U.S. Code violations. At arraignment he was held on bail and is next due in court on November 13.
He has one prior arrest, for larceny and possession of stolen property in Manhattan in 2002.
Otero, the NYPD pilot struck with the laser beam, has also seen personal drones occupying New York’s airspace.
On Tuesday, in fact, he had just returned to the Aviation Unit base in Brooklyn after conducting an unsuccessful search for a drone reportedly flying some 4,000 feet high near the Verrazano Bridge.
“There are lots more of these coming,” he said. “It’s extremely dangerous for everyone.”